We are a community of believers covenanted together for Christian ministry. We celebrate our Baptist heritage and our Baptist distinctives. We are not contentious toward other denominational traditions, but we affirm and commend our Baptist ways as an authentic expression of the evangelical faith passed down to us by Christ through his apostles. I want to emphasize two elements of our Baptist covenant which we celebrate.
First, we are a covenanted community of believers. We seal this covenant through the waters of believers’ baptism. That is to say, believers who wish to join in covenant with us do so through the waters of baptism. We baptize only those who publicly profess their faith. This distinguishes us from those churches that offer baptism to infants. We hold sacred this rite, and only offer it to those who are able to assent or confess that Jesus is Lord. While we are committed to loving our youngest children and raising them in the fear of the Lord, we withhold baptism until they embrace Jesus in a genuine confession of faith. This is a doctrinal principle, and not a matter or preference. While we are happy to cooperate in ministerial endeavors with other denominations that baptize non-believers, we think that this doctrine is important enough to make it a defining issue for our covenantal community. Thus, we celebrate our community as a Believers’ Church.
Secondly, we think that covenant is best kept when the members of the congregation know each other. The first Baptist creed, or first Baptist statement of faith, included these words:
We believe and we confess…that the members of every Church or Congregation ought to know one another that they may perform all the duties of love one towards another both to soul and body. And especially the Elders ought to know the whole flock…. And therefore a Church ought not to consist of such a great multitude as cannot have particular knowledge one of another (Thomas Helwys’ A declaration of Faith of English People Remaining at Amsterdam, 1611, art. 16).
While we appreciate the impact and ministry of the large and mega-large churches, we do not envy them. Indeed, we affirm that the healthy smaller or mid-size church can accomplish God’s mission better since its members know each other and hold each member dear in their hearts, and therefore can keep covenant with one another much better than they can with strangers. For this reason, we commit ourselves to know each member. We work hard to make sure our children and youth know the names of our older members. We concern ourselves with learning names of our members which otherwise might be difficult or sound foreign to us. We spend time in intergenerational ministries, with our older members mentoring our younger members. We strive to know each other by name, and we aspire to recount the joys and sorrows of each member of our fellowship. These are the joys of a covenantal community that is small enough to share one another’s burdens. We think it is the model envisioned by the New Testament, and we celebrate our intimacy. Should we, as a healthy church, grow beyond this ideal, we look for God’s guidance to plant new churches so that we may minister the Gospel as effectively as possible.
As a covenanted community, we have a shared covenant, one which we recite on Communion Sundays when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper. This covenant obligates us….
We are thankful of our long term members who have faithfully kept covenant with us over the years. They have poured out their lives in ministry to our own members, to our local community, and to world-wide ministry through sacrificial giving and ceaseless prayer. I recently heard an 82-year-old pastor say, “If anyone knows the retirement age for God’s kingdom workers, I wish they’d let me know.” We now honor our long term members; please stand and remain standing as your name is called.